What Sony's Madame Web casting of Dakota Johnson reveals

Casting Dakota Johnson as Madame Web, Sony aims to build and expand their Spider-Verse separate from the MCU.

In a surprising move, Sony has cast Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey, Suspiria) in the role of Madame Web to further expand their Spider-Verse cinematic franchise.

Sony casts Dakota Johnson for Madame Web film, revealing potential direction for Spider-Man Cinematic Universe. (Images: Marvel/Disney and Universal Pictures)

Madame Web is an important figure in the Spider-Man mythos, often acting as the guide and mentor to Peter Parker. But with the casting of Dakota Johnson, Sony is taking a radically different direction than what most casual fans of the Spider-Man franchise might be familiar with.

What has been revealed so far about Sony’s Madame Web with Dakota Johnson’s casting? Read on for more details.

Spinning the web

Since 2019, plans for expanding the Sony Spider-Man Universe by adding Madame Web were already set into motion. In an article by Collider, it was reported that Morbius writers Burk Sharpless and Matt Sazama had been selected to pen the script for Madame Web’s solo film.

With a Venom sequel and Morbius films both already in the horizon, building up the live action Spider-Verse became a priority for Sony Pictures. The production company had long been aiming to leverage their exclusive rights to Spider-Man and directly related characters and IPs into their own cinematic universe. However, those plans that had initially been plotted using Andrew Garfield’s The Amazing Spider-Man film series fell apart when said films did not perform well at the box office.

But with the success of having Spider-Man appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (as portrayed by Tom Holland), plans for building the Sony Spider-Verse began anew. The success of the first Venom solo film starring Tom Hardy solidified the decision to go all-in with creating their own cinematic universe outside of the MCU proper.

The original Madame Web was Cassandra Webb, a mutant psychic who required a life support system due to a debilitating condition.

In 2019, producer Amy Pascal, head of the Spider-Man franchise at the Sony lot, had this to say about the Sony Spider-Man Universe:

I think the first thing for us to think about is: Venom has to stand on its own, [Spider-Man] has to stand on its own, Spider-Verse has to stand on its own. They all have to be great movies themselves. And then the possibilities are endless.

Pascal would later tap S.J. Clarkson to direct the Madame Web film from the script of Sharpless and Sazama. Clarkson has previously directed some of the Marvel Netflix shows, including Jessica Jones and The Defenders, which will soon leave the Netflix streaming service and be incorporated in the Disney streaming arm.

Julia instead of Cassandra

The original Madame Web was Cassandra Webb. Born a mutant, Webb possessed psychic abilities that would rival Professor X himself. These included astral projection, clairvoyance, telepathy, precognition, and remote viewing. However, her body was also afflicted by a debilitating disease, affecting both her mobility and vision. Thus, Webb would require being plugged into a life support system for the rest of her life.

This life support system’s visual design is inevitably what led to her namesake of Madame Web. The intricate patterns of wires formed a visual similar to a spider’s web. She would eventually encounter Peter Parker and serve as an informal guide to the young hero. In the 1990s Spider-Man animated series, Madame Web acted as an intercessor to the all-powerful Beyonder. In the comics, she would mentor Peter regarding the mystical Web of Life and Destiny, the supernatural nexus that connected to all the Marvel Comics multiverse.

Given the casting of Dakota Johnson, it is likely she will play the younger Madame Web, Julia Carpenter aka Spider-Woman II.

In most depictions, Madame Web is presented as a woman of advanced age. Her frail body only exacerbated her physical limitations. This would work fine as a supporting character, but given this status quo, it seems like an odd choice for a character to build a solo movie on.

However, it is likely that Sony will be focusing on Cassandra Webb’s successor to the Madame Web title: Julia Carpenter, formerly the second Spider-Woman. Introduced in Secret Wars (1984), this second Spider-Woman would initially be branded a super-villain before becoming a superhero herself after an encounter with Iron Man.

Unlike Cassandra Webb, Julia Carpenter has both psychic abilities and physical prowess. Carpenter was an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. given experimental treatments to mimic the abilities of Spider-Man. Thus, she had super-strength, acrobatic agility, could stick to any surface, a limited healing factor and immunity to most poisons, and she could spin webs made of psychic energy. As Spider-Woman II, Julia would be recruited in Freedom Force (under the mutant Mystique), before being drafted by the West Coast Avengers and Force Works.

Julia would later inherit the powers of Cassandra Webb, after the latter suffered a fatal injury. The transfer of Webb’s powers, however, inexplicably struck Carpenter blind as well. However, unlike Cassandra, Julia retained her mobility and physical abilities, enabling her to act on her own rather than rely on Spider-Man or other agents. Julia is able to compensate for her blindness with her increased psychic awareness and other senses.

Madame Web as a nexus

The casting of 32-year old Dakota Johnson pretty much confirms that Sony will be using the Julia Carpenter version of Madame Web. Although it is not unusual for a younger actor to take on a traditionally older character (as in the case of Kathryn Hahn in the role of Agatha Harkness from Disney+’s WandaVision), choosing Julia Carpenter makes more sense and a better fit for Johnson.

Aside from not being limited with the physicality for action scenes, the Julia Carpenter character also opens up other potential story elements. Carpenter is a single mother, with her daughter Rachel being enamored with Julia’s superhero activities. Carpenter’s original role as a spy can also have story elements that can be explored in potential sequels and spinoffs.

The comic book version of Julia Carpenter is also a nexus of connections with other characters. Aside from Spider-Man, Carpenter had close ties to Iron Man, Nick Fury, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Wonder Man, Shang-Chi, Daredevil, and many others. While Sony’s cinematic Spider-Man Universe version will likely not have these connections, alternatives could be easily written in. As Sony Pictures is also reportedly planning on films for Spider-Man adjacent characters such as Black Cat, Silver Sable, The Prowler, and more in the future, Dakota Johnson’s Madame Web could serve as a connective point, similar to the MCU’s Nick Fury or Doctor Strange.

After the massive success of Spider-Man: No Way Home, Sony has pushed to quickly get other projects greenlit and into production. Kraven the Hunter has already cast Aaron Taylor-Johnson in the title role and added Russell Crowe. With Morbius (starring Jared Leto) hitting theaters soon, it is only a matter of time for more casting and story elements for Madame Web surfaces soon.

Sony Pictures’ Madame Web has not yet set a production or release date.

Geoff Borgonia
Geoffrey "Borgy" Borgonia is a veteran writer, artist, journalist, gamer, and entrepreneur based in the Philippines. When not contributing to some of the top pop culture sites on the planet, he spends the rest of his time running his business, practicing martial arts, working on and developing books, comics, and games. In his man-cave, his only luxury is sleep. Borgy on Linkedin.
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